Mentoring groups come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I have been involved in a number of these groups over the years, and have found them to be very helpful for problem solving and just plain bitching – both of which are needed to survive the academic career path.
In graduate school, I started a women’s group in the department I was in at the time. In grad school, it was for female graduate students. We had speakers and panels on these issues and met once a month. Some of the meetings were supported by the department with food (pizza). Sometimes the female professors would have us to their houses.
As a new assistant professor, I started a women and minorities mentoring group in my new department. After several years of teas, student talks, and student lunches with visiting women and minority scientists, I convinced the department to make it a true committee assignment that should be assigned to a male colleague as well as a woman. Thus, it was taken over a morphed by another, and they changed it. I was released from the extra organization, and made a sustainable contribution to mentoring in the department. The women who have run the group after me did not do the same activities as me, but that is good.
A couple years into my tenure track job, a couple of WomenOfScience at my university assembled two EveryOtherThursday groups for peer mentoring and group problem solving for professors. These groups are based on the book, “Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women in Science,” by Ellen Daniell. One group met after work. The other met during lunch. My group has women from all career stages, and their collective wisdom has helped me navigate through tenure. I am sure I could have made it without them, but it was a much better, more pleasant trip with their support. Further, despite my being on the younger side of the group, I felt I was able to mentor more senior women as they worked on issues that I had successfully navigated, such as the Two-Body Problem and juggling kids with work. I highly recommend getting into one of these groups or forming one of your own. They continue to be an essential part of my peer network on campus.
If others have other examples or mechanisms of group mentoring, don’t be afraid to comment or to send me a guest post!